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Replotting a Career
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
As a young reader, Kim Harrington ’96, MBA ’00 was obsessed with the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. Though she loved controlling characters and plots, a writing career struck her as risky and impractical. Instead, the former Marketing major worked in corporate marketing and, later, as an independent search-engine marketing consultant. When her son (now 15) headed to kindergarten, Harrington reconsidered. And the adventure was off.
MOTIVATING FACTORS When I write middle-grade books, I write for my 9-year-old self. Growing up, I loved computer games, so I wrote the Gamer Squad series for me. You have to enjoy what you’re writing or it’s going to be really, really hard. Kid and teen readers have an overwhelming enthusiasm for books and reading. I think my writing style and voice are great matches for these age groups.
VOICE LESSONS I try not to mix writing a young adult (YA) and a middle-grade book at the same time, because the voice is so different. In YA, almost anything goes. For middle-graders, I have to be more cognizant. It can be a mystery, although I can’t have a serial killer romping through town. What I enjoy about middle grade is you can ramp up the humor.
TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES For a mystery/suspense author, phones are often something to write around creatively or incorporate in ways that authors of previous decades didn’t have to worry about. The killer is chasing you? Simple! Dial 911 on the cell you always have with you. On a broader scale, social media, phones, the Internet and video games are all competing for kids’ attention. I just write the best book I can and hope readers enjoy it enough to spend their limited downtime with my characters.
… AND PERKS I make myself available via email, and I’m also active on Twitter and Instagram, which are where most of my readers reside online. They enjoy seeing glimpses of their favorite authors’ lives, as do I!
THE WRITING PROCESS Writers tend to categorize themselves as “plotters” or “pantsers.” Plotters outline in detail, and pantsers jump in and write by the seat of their pants. I call myself a “capri pantser.” I know the beginning and the ending, and I write up the character sketches. But I don’t need to know everything in between.
FILLING IN THE MIDDLE The middle of a book is the hardest part; it’s the slog. So I use the BIC method: butt in chair. You set your timer or you have a word count and you’re not allowed up until you finish. Writers can be perfectionists and you need to give yourself permission to write horribly. It can be fixed later.
UP ALL NIGHT I’m not the type of writer who will ever win a Newbery award. I write commercial fiction, because that’s the type of book I liked to read. My chapters end with little cliffhangers so kids want to read just one more. I get so many emails that say “sent from my iPad” and they write: “I stayed up all night reading your book.”
Alison Davis-Blake, the former business school dean at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, was inaugurated as the eighth president of Bentley University in a ceremony attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the extended Bentley community.